Because Wiccan and Witches honour nature, the Wheel of the Year is marked by Sabbats, which are seasonal festivals celebrating and acknowledging the cycles of nature as it turns through its seasons.
The eight Sabbats are the Summer and Winter Solstices, the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes and four fire festivals - Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lammas. (Other traditions may use slightly different names for the Sabbats.)
These Sabbats help you tune in to the seasons and the cyclical characteristics of Nature. The festivals historically mark important times in the agricultural cycle of the year. All of the eight Sabbats were celebrated in the Ancient world in some form or other.
For Witches, the Wheel (or Circle) is symbolic of the way the Universe is viewed. As a Witch I worship in Circles; I see cycles in the months, the year, and in my life. The continual turning of these cycles return to their original points of their start.
Life is forever changing and yet stays the same. Winter always follows Autumn, which follows Summer, which inevitably follows Spring. The grain is harvested, eaten, and replanted from the previous cycles seeds. Just as we are born into light from darkness, we will pass into darkness and be born again into the light of a new world.
This way of viewing the Universe is shown clearly in The Wheel of the Year calendar of Sabbats. The theme of forever changing yet remaining constant is played out in the form of rhythmic interaction of the God and Goddess.
With each turn of the Wheel the Lord is born, grows in strength, courts and wins the hand of the Lady, and then allows himself to weaken and die, that life can be renewed with the next turning of the Wheel.
The Goddess, however, is constant throughout the year. Ever eternal, she changes from Maiden to Mother to Crone; she never dies but is forever the giver of life and spirit.
Samhain on 31st October is known more commonly as Halloween and is when the Wiccan year commences. It is the most important festival of the Witch’s year; it is the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. On this night, the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest. It is believed this night is very significant for divination, as it belongs neither to the old year nor yet to the new one.
It is at Samhain that we bid farewell to the Sun God as he fades away into the darkness, having given his life at the harvest for us, his children. This absence is just temporary, however as he is born once again to the Goddess at Yule.
At Samhain the Goddess takes her role as older wise woman and turns her Crone face to us at this Sabbat. At this time Witches look to her for guidance. Samhain is the only one of the eight Sabbats that deals with death. It is a time to remember past loved ones, and also a time to look to the future.Yule
As the wheel of the year turns Yule or Winter Solstice occurs near or on December 21, which is the longest darkest night of the year and the shortest day. It brings an end to darkness as the days begin to get longer. It is a celebration of a welcome return of the Sun God who has been given life by the Goddess. As the Goddess tends her newborn son, she takes a rest, in order to prepare for the change and growth of the coming seasons. This is a time to rejoice, and to look forward to lighter, brighter days.
Imbolc or Candlemas, on February 2nd marks the recovery of the Goddess after giving birth to the new Sun God, who is growing steadily into a young boy by this time and brings the lengthening days of sunlight. His power however is unpredictable because of his youthfulness bringing warm sunshine one day, the next, grey skies. The Goddess begins to manifest her Maiden aspect, as the earth is fertile and creative at this time and ready to give birth to new things.
Ostara or Spring Equinox occurs on or around March 21 and is the time when the maiden aspect of the Goddess embraces spring and begins to cover the Earth with fertility, budding trees, colourful wildflowers and the freshness of spring. This is the time when the Goddess, joyful in the youthfulness and lust of a Maiden sees the strengthening adolescent Sun God in a very new light. The God grows in maturity, his strength on the verge of conquering the darkness. At this time the hours of dark and light are equal. It is a celebration of balance. It is also a time to celebrate being alive and look forward with anticipation to what the year has to offer you with an open mind.
As the wheel of the year turns Beltane or May Day is a celebration of love. The God is now fully grown and is aroused by the Maiden with her fertility all-encompassing. Their union creates the new Sun God-to-be and many Wiccan couples will perform the ritual of hand fasting on this day. Hand fasting is the union (similar to marriage) of a male and female Wiccan. The couple’s hands are fastened together with a rope or ribbon and this is where the saying ‘tying the knot’ originates.
Litha or Summer Solstice happens on or around June 21st. This is the longest day and the shortest night of the year and from this point, the days will get shorter and the dark hours longer. The power of the sun is at its zenith now, as is the God’s. Both God and Goddess now mature in their deepening love; celebrate the fertility of the earth despite the knowledge that from this point on, his power will begin to wane.
The wheel of the year turns once more and we reach Lammas or Lughnasadh on August 1st. is the first of the harvest festivals, it also marks the waning strength of the God as the nights grow longer and the days become shorter. The Goddess, now fully evolved in her Mother aspect, looks on sorrowfully at the God’s demise but finds comfort and strength in the realisation she carries the seed of the new year's Sun God within her. Lammas is a time of thanksgiving and counting our blessings.
As the wheel of the year turns and nears its end Mabon or Autumn Equinox is on or around 21st September is once again a time of balance when days and nights are equal. Nature readies itself for the cold winter dark as the Sun God wanes in his powers. The themes then of Mabon are the completion of the harvest, the balance of light and dark, and of male and female. The Wheel of the Year turns once again towards Samhain getting ready for the depth of winter and the start of a new turning of the Wheel.
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